Cinderella Goes Gatsby
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James Kudelka’s “Cinderella” entered the repertory of American Ballet Theatre on Friday night. This is a rowdy, visually appealing ballet that gives the company many opportunities to clown around, act, and dance. Originally created for the National Ballet of Canada in 2004, Mr. Kudelka’s show bows to the current consensus of “Cinderella” productions: The heroine is not the central character in the narrative; the ballet is set in the Art Deco era; the tone is metallic rather than moving or romantic, and it leans heavily toward musical comedy or operetta.
Mr. Kudelka knows how to choreograph; he is never at a loss for steps in “Cinderella,” but nev ertheless the choreography has a journeyman feel. Neither of the solos in Cinderella’s Act 1 or Act 2 tell you very much about her.The two adagios for Cinderella and Prince Charming use both vocabulary redolent of ballroom dance and nightclub adagio. The Act 3 adagio, where Cinderella and the Prince tie up all the loose ends in a duet, has the flavor of a Roaring Twenties campus musical like “Good News.”
Julie Kent danced Cinderella at the Friday premiere. At first Ms. Kent – tall, very thin, with high cheekbones – didn’t seem like Cinderella so much as she resembled a fashion model getting ready for a shoot.That may be exactly what Mr. Kudelka wanted her to resemble. But as happens when a performer knows what she is doing, I became more responsive to the image she was projecting as the ballet progressed. Ms. Kent also seems to have been working on her extension and her jump, providing gratifying proof that these facilities can improve even in a mature performer.
Marcelo Gomes, her Prince Charming, is a wickedly imaginative performer who is uninhibited onstage, where he likes to be all things – flouncy to macho, irreverent to selflessly ardent – to dance inside a role or regale us with his comments upon it. On Friday night, he seized the opportunities Mr. Kudelka gave to him and indulged these multiple propensities, and he danced with blazing assurance as well as precision. He gave Ms. Kent all the support she could have desired and his intensity seemed to evoke extra sparks from her.
The vagueness of Mr. Kudelka’s characterization somewhat flummoxed Gillian Murphy when she performed Cinderella at the second performance on Saturday afternoon. She was a sweet and companionable heroine, but seemed not quite convincing in the histrionic climaxes. She was slightly self-conscious during her moments alone onstage, when the audience was coming into close, unmediated contact with her conception of Cinderella. Her dancing was clear and spirited; her one real chance to show off her virtuosic wallop came in the Act 3 solo, where Cinderella is given a diagonal of fouettes.
As Ms. Murphy’s Prince Charming, David Hallberg went through the motions of the role with debonair elan. He danced well, but he could neither make the steps seem important or infuse himself into the character with the abandon that made Mr. Gomes so excit ing Friday night. He also did not give us the multiple perspectives that Mr. Gomes created.
There was beautiful dancing at both performances by the four women who performed Prokofiev’s “Seasons” variations – now titled Blossom, Petal, Moss, and Twig. At the opening performance, there was a very strong and pristine technical display by the four men dancing the Prince’s retinue.
What has become a sine qua non of the contemporary “Cinderella” is a flavor of camp, which began probably with Frederick Ashton’s 1948 production for the Royal Ballet, when Ashton himself and Robert Helpmann danced the two Stepsisters. They weren’t the first transvestite stepsisters in this ballet (or in classical ballet), and female impersonation does not necessarily equal camp. But Ashton’s Stepsisters horn in on Cinderella’s act until the ballet is almost capsized by their antics.
Behind Ashton and Helpmann lay decades of personal and professional camaraderie, as well as rivalry, all of which percolated into the performance and added a backchat.
When Alexei Ratmansky made a new “Cinderella” for the Kirov in 2002, he took advantage of the more liberated cultural climate in Russia to turn the four seasons into a pack of insouciant men who suggest hustlers. In Mr. Ratmansky’s version, the Dancing Teacher who visits Cinderella’s household in Act 1 is also a recognizable gay caricature, who goes on to seduce the Prince during his Act 3 search for Cinderella, thus making the hero’s sojourn a voyage of self-exploration as well.
For his part, Mr. Kudelka adds an “Absolutely Fabulous” bitch goddess character to Cinderella’s household. There is a lot of preening and posing, particularly in the sashaying of the taller sister, who verges on drag-queen parody. Her sibling is short and clutzy due to myopia. Carmen Corella and Erica Cornejo danced the Stepsisters on Friday night; Kristi Boone and Marian Butler danced them on Saturday afternoon. Each woman had a field day and each was truly funny.